Chicago V

Buy Chicago V

Chicago VContinuing an incredible run of musical output and commercial success, Chicago released their fifth overall album in a 39 month span with 1972’s Chicago V. The fourth studio album by the seven-piece ensemble, this release is notable for actually being the first that was of standard, single-LP length. Keyboardist Robert Lamm stepped to the forefront more than any single band member on this album, composing eight out of the ten songs on Chicago V.

By the time this record was recorded in the Fall of 1971, Chicago had recorded three successful double-length studio albums – Chicago Transit Authority in 1969, Chicago II in 1970, and Chicago III in January 1971. The group had also toured almost continuously during these years, which spawned their fourth release, Chicago at Carnegie Hall late in 1971.

Chicago V was recorded in New York City in just over a week with producer James William Guercio, who had produced each of Chicago’s albums to date. This one would be the most successful yet, reaching the top of the charts where it spent a total of nine weeks as well as achieving longstanding regard as one of Chicago’s finest albums ever.


Eat a Peace by The Allman Brothers Band
Released: July 10, 1972 (Columbia)
Produced by: James William Guercio
Recorded: 52nd Street Studios, New York, September 1971
Side One Side Two
A Hit by Varèse
All Is Well
Now That You’ve Gone
Dialogue (Part I)
Dialogue (Part II)
While the City Sleeps
Saturday In the Park
State of the Union
Goodbye
Alma Mater
Group Musicians
Terry Kath – Guitars, Vocals
Robert Lamm – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals
Lee Loughnane – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Vocals
James Pankow – Trombone, Brass Arrangements, Vocals
Walter Parazaider – Saxophones, Flute, Vocals
Danny Seraphine – Drums, Percussion

“A Hit by Varèse” starts things off as a tribute to French-American composer Edgard Varèse, who was a huge influence on Lamm and known to experiment with new musical technology early in the 20th century. This track works in that spirit with some “free form” distorted guitar by Terry Kath in the intro along with a jazzy beat accented by horns in the verses and a cool sax trade-off lead by Walter Parazaider later on. “All Is Well” follows as a more standard pop “break up” song by Lamm, while trombonist James Pankow offers his sole composition with “Now That You’ve Gone”, a track ushered in by the rolling drums of Danny Seraphine and reaching a nice blend of funk and soul along with Chicago’s already diverse sound.

Finishing off the original first side is Lamm’s two part suite “Dialogue”. In Part I, the song’s lyrics are a musical dialogue between lead singers Kath and bassist Peter Cetera, while Part II features a repeated groove along with a chorus hook sung by multiple band members. Side two begins with the tension-filled, horn-led, politically-charged “While the City Sleeps”, which later features an antagonistic guitar lead by Kath.

Chicago in 1972
Following the stark side opener comes the refreshing contrast of “Saturday in the Park”, a bright celebration of a summer day. Lamm was inspired to write the song after walking through New York City’s Central on the Fourth of July, 1971 (actually a Sunday) and he immediately documented the action of various musicians, merchants and passers-by. The indelible piano along with melodic vocal duet of Lamm and Cetera, helped propel this song to #1 for the band. The next two tracks, the funky “State of the Union” and the cool, Latin-influenced “Goodbye”, each feature Cetera taking solo lead vocals, something he would do much more regularly in later years. The album concludes with Kath’s somber “Alma Mater”, a piano and acoustic guitar driven track with rich harmonies that  give it a Gospel feel.

Through the mid 1970s, Chicago continued to release successful albums enumerated by Roman numerals (Chicago VI in 1973, Chicago VII in 1974, etc…), ultimately becoming the the top US singles charting group of the decade according to Billboard magazine.

~

1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Days of the New

Buy Days of the New

Days of the NewDays of the New came out of the gate in 1997 and forged their own style of dark acoustic rock. This style is expertly exhibited throughout the group’s debut album which features a dozen tracks written by lead vocalist and guitarist Travis Meeks. The first of three self-titled albums, Days of the New was relevant and successful in 1997 due to its fresh acoustic approach and catchy vocal hooks.  The album has held up well over the course of the two decades since it was first released.

The group got its start in the Indiana suburbs of Louisville, KY as a rock trio called Dead Reckoning. At the time of its formation and recording of this debut album, Meeks, bassist Jesse Vest and drummer Matt Taul were all still teenagers. Soon the group turned towards an exclusively acoustic sound and added a second guitarist, Todd Whitener.

After just three live performances in 1996, the freshly named Days of the New was signed by producer Scott Litt and recorded this debut album the Fall of that year. In time, this initial release would be nicknamed the “Orange” or “Yellow” album after the color of its cover and would sell over a million and a half copies worldwide.


Days of the New by Days of the New
Released: June 3, 1997 (Geffen)
Produced by: Scott Litt
Recorded: Woodland Studios, Nashville, Tennessee, October-November 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Shelf in the Room
Touch, Peel and Stand
Face of the Earth
Solitude
The Down Town
What’s Left for Me?
Freak
Now
Whimsical
Where I Stand
How Do You Know You?
Cling
Travis Meeks – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Todd Whitener – Guitars, Vocals
Jesse Vest – Bass
Matt Taul – Drums

Days of the New

 

The opening hit track “Shelf in the Room” stays mellow and moderate throughout while maintaining enough melody and mood to propel it to sustain its pop viability. The song would reach the Top 5 of the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart in 1998 and become a radio staple for several years. Another popular song, “Touch, Peel and Stand” features a more dynamic approach and a bit more tempo than the opening track. During the verses, Meeks’ vocals mimic Vest’s bass line, while the choruses feature some fine harmonized vocals, which all helped make this the group’s biggest charting hit. “Face of the Earth” follows with a bit more complex arrangement and some lead vocal effects, while “Solitude” has an odd-timed, waltz like beat as a backdrop for the now common acoustic riffs and vocal-drone motifs.

“The Down Town” is the best overall song on the album with its unique chord progression and infectious rhythms. The second single from the album, this song topped the Mainstream Rock charts in 1998 and is one of the more upbeat tracks. “What’s Left for Me?” features a finger-picked intro with strong rhythmic rudiments later joining, while “Freak” plays on a musical arpeggio and repeated, honed in lyrical themes.

Days Of the New

Later in the album there are a few more interesting moments before it all begins to lose steam. “Now” comes close to being a sad ballad, softer and more introspective than much of other material, and it features great variations of pick and strums and an extended, multi-part acoustic lead with slightly Spanish style by Whitener. “Whimsical” has additional fine musicianship and unique arrangements, while “Where I Stand” comes in with an acoustic / Western like jam before the song proper steers it back into the grunge direction – this also features some layered vocal motifs and arrangements and some hand percussion during the later jam section.
Unfortunately, by the time we reach “How Do You Know You?”, we’ve reached the point where everything becomes repetitive and even slightly annoying. The low-fi closer “Cling” does little to remedy this, save for the chiming guitars which, while still acoustic, have an almost electric feel.

Shortly after releasing Days of the New, the group got on the touring circuit with Metallica and Jerry Cantrell starting in West Palm Beach, Florida on June 24, 1998. Meeks later criticized this billing, stating that, due to their acoustic sound, Days of the New should have toured with a group like Dave Matthews Band. However, inner discord between Meeks and the other band members caused some cancelled shows and, ultimately, this original incarnation of the band split in 1999. Meeks formed a new band under the name Days of the New and recorded a second album in late 1999.

~

1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

Ordinary Average Guy
by Joe Walsh

Buy Ordinary Average Guy

Ordinary Average Guy by Joe WalshJoe Walsh‘s long solo career was beginning to wind down by the early nineties, in part due to a decades long “party” which was starting to take its toll on him personally and professionally. His ninth solo studio album, Ordinary Average Guy, is hardly his most heralded or successful. However, this was an important record in the sense that it takes a nostalgic look to the past as well as a sobering assessment of the present. Also notable here is Walsh’s inclusion of several fine ballads, a musical area which he had rarely explored to that point in his long career.

After The Eagles broke up in 1980, Walsh dove into his solo career which he began with Barnstorm in 1974 and continued in between Eagles albums with releases such as 1978’s But Seriously, Folks. In 1981, Walsh released the commercially successful There Goes the Neighborhood, which spawned the single, “A Life of Illusion”, a song originally intended for Walsh’s first solo album. Later in the decade, Walsh released You Bought It – You Name It and The Confessor, the latter of which included heavy input by Stevie Nicks. 1987’s Got Any Gum? would be Walsh’s final release of the decade and a commercial disappointment.

In 1990, Walsh reunited with former Barnstorm drummer Joe Vitale to co-produce Ordinary Average Guy. This album also features vocal and composition contributions by former Survivor lead vocalist Jimi Jamison as well as backing vocals by the legendary Ringo Starr.


Ordinary Average Guy by Joe Walsh
Released: April 23, 1991 (Epic)
Produced by: Joe Walsh & Joe Vitale
Recorded: August 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Two Sides to Every Story
Ordinary Average Guy
The Gamma Goochee
All of a Sudden
Alphabetical Order
Look at Us Now
I’m Actin’ Different
Up All Night
You Might Need Somebody
Where I Grew up (Prelude to School Days)
School Days
Joe Walsh – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Waddy Wachtel – Guitars
Joe Vitale – Drums, Percussion, Keyboards, Bass

Ordinary Average Guy by Joe Walsh

The album begins  with “Two Sides to Every Story”, co-written by bassist Rick Rosas. It starts with a harmonica lead, accompanied by a basic rock drum beat and chanting vocals and is fun and entertaining overall, albeit lyrically a bit clichéd. The title track, “Ordinary Average Guy”, is a fun bag of sonic candy which acts as a near modern adaptation of the famous “Life’s Been Good”, complete with rock/reggae elements and textures and the spoof-like lyrics. “The Gamma Goochee” cover song sounds like a great party tune with thumping bass and subtle synths to complement the vocal chanting and call and response crowd effects.

“All of a Sudden” is the first song on the album to depart from the established “party mode”, with somber and introspective lyrics on growing older. Co-written by Jamison, this track showcases fantastic music to match the vibe and mood.  With slide electric guitar interludes over some steady synths, bass and drums and a saxophone lead by Larry Otis,  this is the high point of Ordinary Average Guy. Unfortunately, this is immediately followed by the album’s low point, “Alphabetical Order”, a complete throwaway song, which seems like it is a mockery of rap but even misses the mark on that front.

Joe Walsh

On the second half of the album, the material is more evened out with accessible pop/rock. “Look at Us Now” has a rollin’ drum intro with slowly developing, harmonized slide guitar. The song proper maintains the beat while adding riff rudiments to accent the vocals, in an approach reminiscent of material on John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band more than two decades earlier. “I’m Actin’ Different” has an acoustic backing throughout with steady but strong rhythms and a slight Soul vibe as the song goes along. “Up All Night” features some over-the-top synths along with Latin-flavored percussive effects, while the cover “You Might Need Somebody” features a unique mix of 1980s Adult contemporary with Walsh’s persistent talk box guitars leading a built-up layer of fine guitar textures. The album concludes with a suite of two songs which nod back towards adolescent years. On “Where I Grew up (Prelude to School Days)” a synth arpeggio accompanies the solo Walsh vocals with little additional arrangement, while Vitale’s “School Days” wraps things up with the drummer taking lead vocals in a quasi doo-wop rock with eighties-style production overtones.

While a couple of songs were Mainstream Rock hits, Ordinary Average Guy failed to break the Top 100 on the Album charts. Similarly, its follow up Songs for a Dying Planet in 1992 was equally non-commercial and critically panned, and Walsh would not release another solo album for two solid decades.

~

1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1991 albums.

Blood On the Tracks
by Bob Dylan

Buy Blood On the Tracks

Blood On the Tracks by Bob DylanBlood On the Tracks contains all the elements of Bob Dylan‘s classic, 1960s outputs, with the staples of the acoustic guitar, the harmonica, and the poetic lyrics delivered in expert fashion. It also fit in well with those earliest works as Dylan’s return to Columbia Records after a short stint with Asylum in the early 1970s. However, this fifteenth studio album by the artist is thematically unlike anything he had done before, as a raw and confessional work apparently influenced by the breakup of his marriage (a claim that Dylan has both denied and confirmed in subsequent years). Initially receiving lukewarm reviews, the album has collected ever-growing acclaimed in the four decades since its release, with many claiming it may be his finest overall release, if not his best produced.

After stellar success and acclaim through much of the 1960s, Dylan stumbled a bit as he entered the 1970s with the release of several uneven albums. 1970s Self Portrait was a double LP containing mainly cover tunes, while his acting role and soundtrack for the 1972 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was largely forgettable save for the classic track, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”. Backed by The Band, Dylan released Planet Waves in 1973, which spawned two versions of the standard “Forever Young”. Dylan and The Band then embarked in his first tour since early 1967, with 40 dates in North America in early 1974, which in turn spawned the live double album Before the Flood.

With his return to Columbia came an affair with a woman in that organization and the subsequent deterioration of Dylan’s marriage to Sara, his wife of ten years and mother of his four children. Beyond this situation, other influences on the material of Blood On the Tracks were the short stories of Russian author Anton Chekov along with Dylan’s art lessons with painter Norman Raeben. Produced by Dylan, the tracks for the album were originally recorded in New York in September 1974 with the album set for a December release. However, at the urging of his brother David Zimmerman, five tracks were re-recorded in Minneapolis in order to relieve some of the “starker sounding” numbers, delaying the album’s release until early 1975. Only one of the original versions of these five songs have been officially released by Dylan.


Blood On the Tracks by Bob Dylan
Released: January 20, 1975 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Dylan
Recorded: A & R Recording, New York, & Sound 80 in Minneapolis, MN, September-December, 1974
Side One Side Two
Tangled Up In Blue
Simple Twist of Fate
You’re a Big Girl Now
Idiot Wind
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
Meet Me In the Morning
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
If You See Her, Say Hello
Shelter from the Storm
Buckets of Rain
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Barry Kornfeld – Guitars
Paul Griffin – Keyboards
Tony Brown – Bass
Bill Berg – Drums

The album begins with “Tangled Up In Blue”, one of the re-recorded tracks from Minneapolis which on the surface is a bright account of the sad recollection of a lost love. That being said, the poetic lyrics seem to be much more complex than those of a linear story and are delivered in a pleasant and melodic manner within a repeating pattern of acoustic music with slight bass and drums. Released as a single, the song reached the Top 40 on the pop charts in 1975 and has since been regarded as one of Dylan’s finest compositions. “Simple Twist of Fate” is built in much the same way as the opener but with a more melancholy tone, through its descending riff and sparse arrangement with only Dylan’s acoustic and the bass of Tony Brown musically. The song is at once sorrowful, regretful, and peaceful with an overall vibe which reaches into your soul and seems to make personal sense no matter what the original intent of the lyrics.

People tell me it’s a sin to know and feel too much within, I still believe she was my twin but I lost the ring, she was born in spring but I was born too late, blame it on a simple twist of fate…”

The next two songs on the album are Minneapolis re-recordings. “You’re a Big Girl Now” differs in arrangement and approach than the first two songs, being much more adult contemporary and featuring Thomas McFaul on piano and multiple guitarists accompanying Dylan. While all the songs on Blood On the Tracks have a bit of negative aura, “Idiot Wind” is much more biting and cynical than the other, more poetic songs. Still, this is an excellent listen as it is vocally melodic and dramatic and features a heavy presence of Hammond organ throughout by Paul Griffin. The first side concludes with a short, bright, happy-go-lucky tune called “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”, which includes much of the same sound and elements of Dylan’s sixties outputs. A strongly strummed acoustic and bouncy bass presented in a bluegrass mode with a Dylanesque edge, the hopeless lyrics are delivered with the most upbeat smile possible.

Bob DylanThe second side begins with “Meet Me in the Morning”, a decidedly bluesy acoustic track, with steady rhythms set in a way which could’ve fit well as a Rolling Stones song. Here, the rather standard lyrics take a back seat to the music and atmosphere, which is very cool and entertaining, especially during the ending, wild, guitar lead. “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” is a nearly nine minute story-telling song set to an upbeat, Country rhythm. This complex story with multiple characters is unfortunately delivered in a mundane fashion due to its endless repetition and Dylan would later perfect this type of saga with the much better “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” on the Traveling Wilburys debut album a decade and a half later. “If You See Her, Say Hello”, returns to the slow and sad approach with more exquisite production of the dual acoustic and consistent percussion before the song dissolves with a fine, simple instrumental.

Wrapping up the album are two more top notch tunes. “Shelter from the Storm” features much the same arrangement as “Simple Twist of Fate” on the first side with the theme switching to that of asylum. Dylan’s fine vocals and melody carries this three chord song with strong lyrical imagery. “Buckets of Rain” is the perfect closer for this album, simple but effective with vocals reminiscent of the Nashville Skyline era. The song seems to offer closure to the all the heartbreak left in the wake of this collection of songs.

Blood On the Tracks topped the charts in the US and reached the Top 5 in the UK, while achieving double-platinum status, making it one of Dylan’s best selling albums in his vast collection. While there was much success, Dylan quickly pivoted away from the confessional style with the more political-inspired follow-up, Desire in 1976 followed by Dylan’s foray into Gospel music later in the decade.

~

1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

Highway 61 Revisited
by Bob Dylan

Buy Highway 61 Revisited

1965 Album of the Year

Highway 61 Revisited by Bob DylanSome albums are borne of the ether. Some are born of the earth. A rare few refine both into a crystallized masterpiece. Out of Bob Dylan‘s entire discography, Highway 61 Revisited stands as the brightest example of his work. It takes concepts he had experimented with previously and solidifies them into liquid gold. The contradiction in words was intentional there because Highway 61 Revisited is nothing if not fluid. While honoring his past this album also points a big bright burning finger towards works that had yet to come like Blonde On Blonde, Desire and Blood On the Tracks. Highway 61 Revisited is Bob Dylan in a nutshell, a nutshell that is inside out and bleeding right into our collective brains.

The album began its climb to creation the day Bob Dylan was born in Minnesota near the actual U.S. Highway 61, which stretched from the Canadian border north of his hometown, south through Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, and all the way to New Orleans. In his mind the highway connected a young Dylan to blues legends like Muddy Waters and Elvis Presley. The blues serve as the foundation for Highway 61 Revisited. Dylan’s own angst at the time of the album’s recording served as the structure. He had recently “gone electric” at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965 and come back from a disappointing tour of England. He was looking to do something different and he had an axe to grind with the people who wanted him to stay in his folk box. When he finally got some musicians together to record this sixth studio album it came together like it was being guided by divine hands.

Produced by Bob Johnston, it only took two brief sessions and 9 days for the album to be completed. Amazing aspects of it, like the organ riff on “Like a Rolling Stone”, were improvised on the spot. Al Kooper, the musician who improvised the riff, just happened to be visiting one day and managed to play his way right into rock and roll history. While Dylan’s lyrics on the album reflect his frustrations at the time, he puts a fantastic twist on them by throwing in elements of surrealism. He evokes dreams by filling his songs with characters from history and fiction. The resulting album is infinitely more complex than anything put together in 9 days has any right to be. Every listen allows the ear to hear something new and the mind to interpret the lyrics differently. Fifty years after its original release it still stands as a perfect example of musical complexity.


Highway 61 Revisted by Bob Dylan
Released: August 30, 1965 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston & Tom Wilson
Recorded: Columbia Studio A, New York, June–August 1965
Side One Side Two
Like a Rolling Stone
Tombstone Blues
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
From a Buick 6
Ballad of a Thin Man
Queen Jane Approximately
Highway 61 Revisited
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
Desolation Row
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Harmonica
Mike Bloomfield – Guitars
Charlie McCoy – Guitars
Al Kooper – Organ
Harvey Brooks – Bass
Bobby Gregg – Drums

Each song on this album is an enigma that you could write thousands of words about and still be no closer to truly understanding or explaining it, so I’ll leave that to someone else. The album kicks off with Dylan’s first huge hit, “Like a Rolling Stone”, which reached #2 on the US charts. The song is partially autobiographical and probably one of the best opening tracks ever and serendipitously got its signature hook when Kooper, a 21-year protégé of producer Tom Wilson, snuck in on organ and made the best of his opportunity. “Tombstone Blues” speeds up an already electric start. Like the title song, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Desolation Row” we get Dylan’s use of famous names in his songs to create a parable that feels timeless and utterly surreal. The guitar on “Tombstone Blues” is one of the finest on any Dylan album. “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It takes a Train to Cry” is a more classical blues ballad and brings in the harmonica for full effect. It’s a rare song that doesn’t overdo the instrument and makes it feel like an organic part of the sauntering rhythm and the piano has an almost ragtime quality.

“From a Buick 6” is probably the weakest song on the album since the lyrics aren’t as wild as everything else but the music is still incredible throughout. This could be one of the strongest songs on an album that wasn’t so packed with great songs. “Ballad of a Thin Man” sports scathing lyrics poking fun at everyone that isn’t in on Dylan’s jokes. This album is Dylan exorcising all his anger and frustration at everyone that didn’t get him or wanted him to be their dancing monkey, “Ballad of a Thin Man” is the keystone of the album and those sentiments. “Queen Jane Approximately” is just as scathing as “Mr. Jones” but sounds a lot friendlier due to Dylan’s lighter vocal tone. It doesn’t sound quite as menacing but it’s still talking about someone who isn’t aware of how stupid they really are. The song is believed to refer to Dylan’s fellow folk singer and ex-girlfriend, Joan Baez, but only he knows if that is truth. It is totally applicable to say this song applies to any of the people involved in the folk movement that Dylan was trying to leave. It’s also one of the most underrated songs on the album.

Bob Dylan writing Highway 61 RevisitedDylan’s opening line of the title track, “Highway 61 Revisited”, connects the route to history by pairing it with the biblical story of Abraham, while starting with a wailing police siren. “Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues” is a hangover song from the opening lines which discuss being lost in Juarez, Mexico. The song also discusses how the destructive nature of all those things we think we want so much that leave us changed for the worse. “Desolation Row” is the final track and a juggernaut. It’s an 11 minute epic that manages to keep your ear interested because you want to see what’s around the next bend of lyrics. It’s got a great southwestern acoustic guitar that sounds like Dylan is singing the song in a dimly lit tavern somewhere. If “Like A Rolling Stone” is a perfect opener this is the show stopping finale that bookends the greatest of all Dylan albums.

Throughout Highway 61 Revisited the lyrics seem to be totally relatable and completely mysterious at the same time. This is one of the album’s greatest strengths. The lyrics’ meaning can never be fully unraveled, which means they can always mean whatever you think they do. Each time Dylan talks about the album he gives a different explanation for the driving motivations behind the album, the songs and the verses, keeping the mystery of the album alive and open to whatever interpretation your mind desires. Great art is always open to interpretation and that’s one of the big keys to Highway 61 Revisited. Whereas much of Dylan’s previous work was locked in a particular time, this album is completely timeless. Most importantly of all though, the music is just plain great. It’s more complex than anything he had done previously and more rewarding to listen to as a result. It’s a great album but if you want to debate me on that point, just remember to send your emails from Desolation Row.

~

1965 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.

 

Scarecrow by John Mellencamp

Buy Scarecrow

Scarecrow by John Cougar MellencampWhile much of popular music in 1985 was moving towards more synth-based compositions and refined production, John “Cougar” Mellencamp decided to return to his roots on Scarecrow. In fact, Mellencamp was so dedicated to incorporating the sound of classic 1960s music that he mandated to his band that they learn about a hundred old singles verbatim while rehearsing for recording the album. The result was a highly entertaining and successful album which set the template for many future works.

Mellencamp’s breakthrough album was 1982’s American Fool, his fifth release as “John Cougar”. Following this success, he insisted on using his birth name, Mellencamp, on future releases. 1983’s Uh-Huh was another commercial success and the first to feature both Larry Crane and Mike Wanchic on guitars.

Co-produced by Don Gehman, the album was the first to be recorded at Mellencamp’s studio in Belmont, Indiana, known as “The Belmont Mall”. Along with the definitive 60s music theme, the lyrical theme of this album was the transitional economy which saw the ruin of many family farms during the era, giving the album an overall bittersweet tone.


Scarecrow by John Cougar Mellencamp
Released: November 4, 1985 (Riva)
Produced by: Don Gehman & John Mellencamp
Recorded: Belmont, Indiana, March 20-April 29, 1985
Side One Side Two
Rain On the Scarecrow
Grandma’s Theme
Small Town
Minutes to Memories
Lonely Ol’ Night
The Face of the Nation
Justice and Independence ’85
Between a Laugh and a Tear
Rumbleseat
You’ve Got to Stand for Somethin’
R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.
Primary Musicians
John Cougar Mellencamp – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Larry Crane – Guitars, Vocals
Mike Wanchic – Guitars, Vocals
John Cascella – Keyboards
Toby Myers – Bass, Vocals
Kenny Aronoff – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The main album theme is portrayed on the opening track, “Rain On the Scarecrow”, co-written by George M. Green. Mellencamp’s chanting lyrics are dark and desperate, while musically this track builds on a sixties-type folk riff with bright guitars and a direct bass by Toby Myers. “Grandma’s Theme” follows as a short interlude of a traditional tune called “In the Baggage Coach Ahead”, sung by Laura Mellencamp, John Mellencamp’s actual grandmother. This links to “Small Town”, a standard folk-rocker built with a strong and direct drum beat by Kenny Aronoff. The song reached #6 on the  US pop charts and was adopted as a rustic theme by many subsequent interests.

“Minutes to Memories” is another co-composed by Green and this stays in the same vibe as the previous song with some interesting percussive effects and other little sonic treats. This song does get interesting and intense later on with backing vocals by Mimi Mapes complimenting the rest of the ensemble. “Lonely Ol’ Night” starts with simple, dueling riffs, which are worked in well with the steady beat of the song. This popular track contains some of the best melodies on the album, with the title inspired by a line from the 1963 film, Hud, starring Paul Newman. “The Face of the Nation” is built with a unique bass riff by Myers accompanied by bouncy guitar by Crane and choppy keyboards by John Cascella throughout, However, it is Aronoff’s drumming which shines brightest on this track.

Scarecrow‘s original second side begins with “Justice and Independence ’85”,a drum-driven funk rocker which attempts to cleverly use titles as names for members of a family. “Between a Laugh and a Tear” is the song on the album which sounds closest to the old “John Cougar” sound, as a direct rocker with subtle guitar riffs and backing vocals by guest, Rickie Lee Jones. The catchy “Rumbleseat” is acoustic pop with plenty of melody and entertaining riffs, more great bass by Myers and a perfect blend of guitars by Wanchic and Crane. “You’ve Got to Stand for Somethin'” stays in same vein as much of the other songs musically but seems to randomly drop famous people and events and seems to try too hard to make a profound point.

John Mellencamp Band

The closing track, “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60’s Rock)”,  finds the intended sound perfectly. This catchy, Top 10 pop hit with definitive sixties elements and topical tributes, features a cool mid section with a nice array of short instrumental leads, including a penny whistle organ by Cascella. Despite all this, Mellencamp was initially reluctant to include the song on the album, feeling it was too light-hearted in contrast to the more serious songs.

Following its release, Scarecrow peaked at #2 in the US and spawned a major tour through 1985 and 1986. In the spirit of the album’s theme, Mellencamp helped organize the first Farm Aid benefit concert, an annual event which continues three decades later.

~

1985 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1985 albums.

 

Chicago II

Buy Chicago II

Chicago II by ChicagoOfficially titled Chicago, the second double-length album by the group with the same name saw their full immersion into mainstream success while still building on their fusion of rock, funk and jazz. This album also saw expanded participation by many of the seven group members, in composing the songs and suites. While the album is interesting and entertaining, it is not without some filler and flaws as at times the group tries too hard to forge messaging, which sometimes comes off awkwardly or forced.

Then known as Chicago Transit Authority, the group released their self-title debut double LP in the Spring of 1969. That album was critically acclaimed for its groundbreaking musical approach but did not spark much initial interest on the radio. After its release, the actual city of Chicago transportation department claimed the name as proprietary and threatened a lawsuit, so the group shortened their name to simply, Chicago.

The album was recorded in less than a month during August 1969 for an early 1970 release. Like the opening album, the compositions are once again mainly provided by guitarist Terry Kath and keyboardist Robert Lamm. However, Chicago II also features a seven-part suite by brass arranger James Pankow as well as the first composition by bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera, who would provide a growing role in the group’s sound as the 1970s progressed.

Chicago II by Chicago

Released: January 26, 1970 (Columbia)
Produced by: James William Guercio
Recorded: Columbia Studios, New York & Hollywood, August 1969
Side One Side Two
Movin’ In
The Road
Poem For the People
In the Country
Wake Up Sunshine
Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon
Side Three Side Four
Fancy Colours
25 or 6 to 4
Memories of Love
It Better End Soon
Where Do We Go From Here
Group Musicians
Terry Kath – Guitars, Vocals
Robert Lamm – Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Cetera – Bass, Vocals
James Pankow – Trombone, Brass Arrangements
Lee Loughnane – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Vocals
Walter Parazaider – Woodwinds, Vocals
Danny Seraphine – Drums, Percussion

Chicago II is a bit top-heavy with some of the best material on the first two sides. Side One starts with Pankow’s celebratory horns of “Movin’ In”, which crams in plenty of jazz-style improv sections on this fine opening track. Kath’s “The Road” starts with a complex riff pattern before settling into a funky ballad led by Cetra’s vocals. “Poem For the People” starts with deliberative solo piano by Lamm, who composed the song. When it fully kicks in, it is a soulful song with nice, mellowly picked guitar interludes and a core meaning. The side concludes with “In the Country”, which may be the first example of an extended filler as the track gets very repetitive and quite corny as it goes along.

The second side starts with “Wake Up Sunshine”, a direct, happy-go-lucky track by Lamm which could’ve been (and should’ve been) a hit for the band, This is one of the most accessible and pop-oriented as well as one of the shorter tracks and ends with a cool, industrial-like organ part. Pankow’s multipart suite, “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” follows, starting with the classic single “Make Me Smile”, which bookends the medley. This features driving acoustic, funky bass, good vocals throughout and animated drums by Danny Seraphine. Next comes “So Much to Say, So Much to Give”, a waltz-like bridge section with lead vocals by Lamm. “Anxiety’s Moment” and “West Virginia Fantasies” are a couple of horn-drivren instrumental sections before the music cleverly dissolves into “Colour My World”, a simple but brilliant tune sung by Kath and featuring a long rotating, piano riff. The section ends with flute solo by Walter Parazaider and would go on to be a hit single on its own. The piece concludes with the bass-driven “To Be Free” and the reprise section “Now More Than Ever” and a military-like drum march by Seraphine to the end.

Side Three starts with “Fancy Colours” starts with percussive chimes and a long, psychedelic organ. After slow slosh through the first verse, song breaks into a Broadway-like 6/8 with plenty of flute parts for the main hook of this track. “25 or 6 to 4” is one of the most indelible Chicago tunes, with a rock oriented core bass, drums, and guitars. The horns play a reserved but effective role, led by the trumpet of Lee Loughnane. The nin-plus-minute suite “Memories of Love” contains orchestral arrangements by Peter Matz, who co-wrote the crooning love song with Kath.

The fourth and final side starts with another extended suite, this time a rock/jazz fusion called “It Better End Soon”, co-written by Lamm, Kath, and Parazaider. The track seems to have been intentionally built for live shows and was kind of manifesto for the group’s political viewpoints. The album concludes with “Where Do We Go from Here”, the first track composed by Cetera and is a more pleasant and uplifting track than its predecessor while still being a bit preachy on world affairs.

Chicago II was an instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching the Top 5 in the US and the UK. Followed by their third consecutive double album, Chicago III in 1971, the band would release about one album per year through the seventies and had continued commercial success through most of that decade.

~

1970 Page ad

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3
by Traveling Wilburys

Buy Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3

Traveling Wilburys Volume 3As heralded and popular as the Traveling Wilburys 1988 debut album was, the 1990 follow up Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 was relatively ignored. In part, this was the fault of the group members themselves who took their penchant for inside jokes a bit too far by naming this second Traveling Wiburys release “Volume 3”. Further confusing to fans was the adoption of completely new “Wilbury” pseudonyms by the four remaining group members. All this being said, the music on this album is excellent and entertaining.

The untimely death of Roy Orbison in December 1988 (while Traveling Wilburys Vol 1 was hitting its peak popularity) instantly reduced the super-group to a quartet. While the mainly spontaneous debut album was loose and fun, the vibe on this second album seems more business-like. Further, George Harrison, the originator and unofficial band leader, has a much lighter presence on Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3.

Stepping in to fill the void are Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, who each have a much stronger presence up front than on the debut album. On a note of consistency, the album was once again produced by Harrison and Jeff Lynne, who offered up exquisite sonic quality throughout the album.


Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 by Traveling Wilburys
Released: October 29, 1990 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Clayton Wilbury & Spike Wilbury
Recorded: April–May 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
She’s My Baby
Inside Out
If You Belonged to Me
The Devil’s Been Busy
7 Deadly Sins
Poor House
Where Were You Last Night?
Cool Dry Place
New Blue Moon
You Took My Breath Away
Wilbury Twist
Spike Wilbury (George Harrison)
Guitars, Mandolin, Sitar, Vocals
Boo Wilbury (Bob Dylan)
Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Clayton Wilbury (Jeff Lynne)
Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Muddy Wilbury (Tom Petty)
Bass, Guitars, Vocals
Jim Keltner
Drums, Percussion

The opener “She’s My Baby” is a harder rocker than practically anything on the previous album. A driving musical riff with booming drums by Jim Keltner and, most importantly, the blistering lead guitar of guest Gary Moore, all work to make this a totally unique Wilburys track. “Inside Out” reverts back to the group’s conventional acoustic driven folk style. The lead vocals are by Dylan during the verses with other Wilburys taking some sections and the lyrics offer a clever play on words. “If You Belonged to Me” is a bright, multi-acoustic track with intro harmonica (and later harmonica lead) by Dylan. Petty takes the vocal helm on “The Devil’s Been Busy”, with Harrison adding some sparse but strategically placed sitar in the verses, followed by a full-fledged, electrified sitar solo later in the song. The track also contains good melodies and harmonies to the profound lyrics,

While you’re strolling down the fairway, showing no remorse / Glowing from the poisons they’ve sprayed on your golf course / While you’re busy sinking birdies and keeping your scorecard, the devil’s been busy in your back yard…”

“7 Deadly Sins” is a fifties style doo-wop with multi-vocal parts and a nice, growling saxophone by Jim Horn. Entertaining enough, but perhaps a bridge too far in the Wilburys penchant for retrospection. “Poor House” starts with Harrison’s signature, weeping guitar. Beyond that, the song sticks to basic blue grass arrangement with harmonized lead vocals and a nice lead guitar by Harrison. “Where Were You Last Night?” has a cool descending acoustic riff throughout and appears to be Dylan parodying his own caricature. With a plethora of acoustic instruments and phrases, “Cool Dry Place” is entertaining musically and classic Petty lyrically with his cool insider lines;

We got solids and acoustics and some from plywood board,
and some are trimmed in leather, and some are made with gourds / There’s organs and trombones and reverbs we can use, lots of DX-7s and old athletic shoes…”

“New Blue Moon” is not much lyrically, but fun, entertaining and sonically interesting nonetheless, while “You Took My Breath Away” is a moderate acoustic ballad where Lynne’s production does add some depth to the overall feel. It all concludes with the wild frenzied rocker of “Wilbury Twist”, which somewhat mocking, while at once a tribute of the dance crazes through the years. Each member takes a turn at lead vocals, making this a fitting end to the album and the Traveling Wilburys short career.

By the early 2000s, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 were out of print and did not resurface in any form until The Traveling Wilburys Collection, a box set including both studio albums with bonus tracks was released in 2007.

~

1990 Page ad

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1990 albums.

Bringing It All Back Home
by Bob Dylan

Buy Bringing It All Back Home

Bringing It All Back Home by Bob DylanPerhaps the most lyrically potent album ever, Bob Dylan delivered a masterpiece with his fifth overall album, Bringing It All Back Home, released 50 years ago today on March 22, 1965. On this record, Dylan’s lyrics became more stylistic and surreal, with the composer employing stream-of-consciousness rants influenced by dreams and the result of isolated and intense writing binges. Most impressively, the words are striking and profound and persist in their relevance a half century later, as it personifies the absolute reach for the ultimate heights even if it risks an ultimate fall. Musically, this album featured Dylan’s first “electric” recordings as he worked with a full backing arrangement on the tracks on the first side. While the album’s second side features traditional acoustic folk songs, there is a steady vibe that unifies the album from end to end and makes it an indisputable work of art as a whole.

While they remained firmly within the realm of folk music, the very titles of Dylan’s 1964 albums (The Times They Are a’ Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan) signaled that the composer may traverse the strict standards of folk music, even if they simultaneously established Dylan as the leading folk performer of his generation. He retreated to Woodstock, NY during much of the summer of 1964, along with fellow folk singer and then-girlfriend Joan Baez. According to Baez, Dylan would stand at a typewriter in the corner of a room, “tapping away relentlessly for hours.” In late August 1964, Dylan had a private meeting with The Beatles in New York City which apparently had a radical effect on both the artistic entities.

Later in the year, Dylan and producer Tom Wilson began experimenting with techniques of fusing rock and folk music. After a few failed attempts at overdubbing electric backing tracks to existing acoustic recordings, the composer and producer brought in a full band for sessions in January 1965. Here, for the first time, Dylan employed his unique method of rapidly “teaching” each individual session man (who had no prior awareness of the material being recorded) exactly he wanted their individual part to be. Amazingly, the entire album was recorded in just a few days, with the entire second side recorded on January 15, 1965.

Those songs recorded for the second side were intentionally stripped down, usually with just Dylan and his acoustic guitar/harmonica accompanied by one other single player to add the slightest bit of flavoring and counter-melody to the otherwise raw tracks. While the production team could have easily released full “electric” versions of every track on this final album, it is rather ingenious the way the second side was presented as almost a natural bridge between Dylan’s previous work and the new direction he was heading, even on the first side of this very album.


Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan
Released: March 22, 1965 (Columbia)
Produced by: Tom Wilson
Recorded: Columbia Recording Studios, New York City, January, 1965
Side One Side Two
Subterranean Homesick Blues
She Belongs to Me
Maggie’s Farm
Love Minus Zero/No Limit
Outlaw Blues
On the Road Again
Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream
Mr. Tambourine Man
Gates of Eden
It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Al Gorgoni – Guitar
Kenny Rankin – Guitar
Paul Griffin – Piano, Keyboards
William E. Lee – Bass
Bobby Gregg – Drums

Looking at the second side first, it begins with the oldest song on the album, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, written over a year before the album’s release and performed many times through 1964. This well-crafted folk song with highly poetic lyrics, features Dylan’s acoustic nicely complimented by the slightest electric guide guitar of Bruce Langhorne. Less than a month after its release on Bringing It All Back Home, The Byrds released their own interpretation of the song, which reached number one on the Billboard charts and helped spawn their debut album of the same name. Lyrically, the song was influenced by French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, and Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini with focus on a central muse who has been interpreted as anyone from an American Indian shaman to Jesus Christ. Of course, the similarities to an LSD trip cannot be disregarded;

Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind, down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves of the haunted frightened trees, out to the windy beach far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow / Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands with all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves, let me forget about today until tomorrow…”

“Gates of Eden” is nine verses of pure folk intensity, where Dylan commands full attention as he tells fables and fortunes about universal and existential stories, with Dylan performing the entire song solo end to end. This song was also written in late June or July 1964, and has clear religious overtones with the Biblical location of pure peace and serenity within a turbulant universe. With little variation throughout its five minute duration, Dylan masterfully commands total attention during each autonomous viginette, with a single harmonica note separating each verse and alerting to a new start. Further, the lyrics describe historical and mythical figures alike;

With a time-rusted compass blade, Aladdin and his lamp sits with utopian hermit monks, side saddle on the golden calf and on their promises of paradise you will not hear a laugh all except inside the gates of Eden…”

The most haunting and pure dark folk track on the album, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” best displays the pure genius of Dylan with a song that is a perfect message both musically and, most especially lyrically. First performed live in October, 1964, this grim masterpiece features Dylan’s best acoustic performance (with no harmonica!) as well as some of his most memorable lyrical images, which express the composer’s rants against hypocrisy, commercialism, institutionalism, and contemporary politics and, decades later, Dylan has named this track as one that means the most to him. After the brilliant cascade of lyrical genius, the track concludes with the most profound line of all;

And if my thought-dreams could been seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine, but it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only…”

The album concludes with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” which, despite its name, is a much brighter acoustic song than anything else on side two and has an almost electric vibe. William E. Lee offers refrained but interesting bass guitar to the acoustic strumming and dynamic melodies of Dylan’s vocals. The song’s subject may have been the folk protest movement in general or Baez in particular, or even both. In any case, this offers a perfect conclusion to Bringing It All Back Home and leaves an almost deafening reverberation in the listener’s ear after the song concludes.

Rolling back to the beginning, this brilliant album has a rather unpolished start as the intro to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is slightly cut off. However, once this song fully launches, it never relents for one single moment, with its only real flaw being that it ends too soon. Here Dylan blends the musical influences of Chuck Berry and Woody Guthrie along with a lyrical style similar to the writings of Jack Kerouac. Released as a single ahead of the album, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” became Dylan’s first Top 40 hit in the US, as well as a the Top 10 hit in the UK. Dylan employs a completely different vocal style on “She Belongs to Me”, a much smoother song musically than the opening track. While his vocalizing has long been the subject of debate and some derision, it is really quite amazing how Dylan can shift gears from track to track. Musically, a gently strummed acoustic is complemented by the picked electric guitar of Langhorne along with a subtle rhythm track and Dylan also executes a few of his finest harmonica leads on this song.

“Maggie’s Farm” may very well be the ultimate counter-counterculture song, exposing some of the hypocrisies of a rebellion against “the establishment” while implementing even stricter standards within itself. Armed with some of his more brutal lyrics, Dylan unambiguously screeds through this explicit poetry and clarion declaration of independence. Essentially, this is an announcement of his musical transformation, which found further importance when Dylan performed it as the opening tune during his defiant electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in August of that year.

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more / Well, I try my best to be just like I am but everybody wants you to be just like them, they sing while you slave and I just get bored, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more…”

As cynical as the previous tracks are, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” completely pivots in the opposite direction, almost like an extremist love song. The very title (a mathematical equation which results in “absolutely unlimited love”) indicates the complete offering of one’s existence to a significant other, in this case Dylan’s future wife Sara Lowndes. Another complete departure for Dylan is “Outlaw Blues”, a rollicking, bluesy and about as heavy as rock and roll came in 1965. In fact, this song could, at once, be a true ancestor to bluesy jam bands as well as the hard rock and heavy metal which arrived a half a decade later. With “On the Road Again”, Dylan takes a large step forward both musically and lyrically. This strong rock/blues track with especially potent drums by Bobby Gregg, contain lyrics written in the spirit of Kerouac’s novel On the Road but with a definite original edge;

Well, there’s fist fights in the kitchen, enough to make me cry / The mailman comes in and even he’s gotta take a side / Even the butler, he’s got something to prove / Then you ask why I don’t live here, Honey, how come you don’t move?”

The album’s first side ends with a bit of levity in the false start of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”. Once the song really kicks in, it employs a true stream-of-consciousness and may have the most surreal lyrics on the album. The song’s title alludes to the track “Bob Dylan’s Dream” from his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but as an almost satirical sequel to that serious folk song.

Upon its release, Bringing It All Back Home reached the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic and has continued to grow in stature and importance in the half century since its release. Later in 1965, Dylan would record and release another masterpiece, Highway 61 Revisited, an album Classic Rock Review will examine on August 30th, the 50th anniversary of that album’s release.

~

1965 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.

 

Damn Yankees

Buy Damn Yankees

Damn Yankees album coverBefore its swift exit from the mainstream rock scene in 1991, “hair metal” had its last hurrah during the year 1990. Perhaps the apex of this final phase was the self-titled debut album by the super group, Damn Yankees, which brought together three musicians from different rock outfits, each of whom had tremendous success in the years and decades previous to Damn Yankees. The result was a double platinum commercial success which spawned several radio and charting hits.

Vocalist and guitarist Ted Nugent had been performing live since 1958 and found some mainstream success with his band, the Amboy Dukes, in the late sixties and early seventies. However, when Nugent launched his solo career the mid seventies, he found his greatest success with three multi-platinum albums in consecutive years 1975, 1976, 1977. During that same era, bassist and vocalist Jack Blades formed the funk band Rubicon, which had a few minor hits before breaking up in 1979. The following year, Blades formed a band called “Ranger”, which morphed into “The Rangers” and ultimately, Night Ranger. The group had tremendous success through the 80’s, selling millions of albums and charting several hit singles. Tommy Shaw joined the established Chicago group, Styx, in late 1975 as second guitarist and co-lead vocalist. Over the next eight years, the group had tremendous success, including the standout albums, The Grand Illusion, in 1977 and, Paradise Theatre, in 1981. However, Shaw grew increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the group’s music towards pop ballads and theatrical role playing, so he left Styx to pursue a solo career which yielded three albums in the late eighties.

Damn Yankees was formed in 1989, with drummer Michael Cartellone (who had played in the final stages of Shaw’s solo band) rounding out the quartet. Some of the material on this album was brought in by individual members, but most was composed collaboratively in the studio. Producer Ron Nevison also brought in multiple session musician to enrich the music and allow the three vocalists to concentrate on melodies and harmonies.


Damn Yankees by Damn Yankees
Released: February 22, 1990 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Ron Nevison
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood, CA & Can-Am Studios, Tarzana, CA, 1989-90
Track Listing Group Musicians
Coming of Age
Bad Reputation
Runaway
High Enough
Damn Yankees
Come Again
Mystified
Rock City
Tell Me How You Want It
Piledriver
Tommy Shaw – Guitars, Vocals
Ted Nugent – Guitars, Vocals
Jack Blades – Bass, Vocals
Michael Cartellone – Drums

The album starts with the hit, “Coming of Age”, which sets the pace for the slick, polished, hard rock sound of the album. Blades brought this popular song with him into Damn Yankees, which features catchy, chanting vocal motifs, accented by accent by Nugent’s choppy riffs, which all worked to make this perfect for pop and rock radio alike. “Bad Reputation” follows in the same vein as a pure riff-driven raunch, unambiguous lyrically and not too far from that musically – steady beat throughout – nice bridge with complex vocal patterns before song returns with Nugent’s blistering lead. After some cool deadened guitar notes in the intro, “Runaway” launches into a full-fledged pop rocker. Led by Shaw’s lead vocals, the song contains nice complements throughout, including some sparse but tactical keyboards by session man Steve Freeman.

The album’s best track is also its most popular. “High Enough” is a ballad which starts and ends with a string ensemble put together by Nevison with strummed acoustic during initial verse. Shaw’s high harmonies perfectly complement Blades’ lead vocals on this track filled with harmonic bliss, both vocally and musically. Further, there is enough arrangement variation to make this Top 5 hit a true classic from the album.

Damn Yankees‘s title song has an Aerosmith-like feel in its riffing, but a much different vibe once the vocals come in. The mid section of this track is dominated by Nugent, with several wild effects through the guitar lead and lead vocals over the bridge. “Come Again” is a folk ballad by Shaw which reflects some of the arena ballads by Styx. Beginning with a picked acoustic during the verse, this song continuously builds in a moody but melodic track that is contrasted by Nugent’s frenzied guitar riffs. “Mystified” starts with some great blues elements, including some slide guitar over initial porch-stomp verses. The song soon turns into a more standard rock drive, but maintains the great blues harmonics during Nugent’s soaring lead, making this the last real highlight of the album.

The remaining three tracks are not the strongest. “Rock City” a bit of frivolous number, only really there for the mind-numbed partier, making it one of the weaker numbers on the album. Led by the strong but standard drumming of Cartellone and the fine vocal harmonies, “Tell Me How You Want It”, is a track which has all the elements of a hit song in 1990, but never reached that plateau. Nugent’s “Piledriver”,  is almost a direct rip-off of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” in its sonic approach. That’s not to say that Nugent’s guitar is not impressive – it is – but the comic breakdown in the middle of this blistering lead is a bit over the top. Nonetheless, it is an entertaining way to wrap up the album.

Damn Yankees reached the Top 20 on the Billboard album charts and remained a hit well into 1991. The group went on a successful world tour and returned with a 1992 follow-up album Don’t Tread, which was a minor hit on its own. In 1994, Nugent left the group, with Shaw & Blades releasing a single album as a duet before ending the short run of Damn Yankees.

~

1990 Page ad

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1990 albums.